Think summer and you think sunshine, short sleeves, cool drinks, ice creams and holidays. Plus there are all those outdoor eating opportunities for picnics and barbecues.

Unfortunately our great British weather hardly ever delivers that long hot summer we think we deserve. However that doesn’t make one jot of difference to most of us, so picnics and barbecues become impromptu events made all the more fun as we dodge the rain. All this is good news for forecourts, as when the sun comes out, people rush around getting things together for their barbecues.

According to the National Barbecue Association, more than 75 million barbecues were held last summer. It also reports a major increase in ‘after-work’ barbies which offer a huge opportunity for forecourts, which can conveniently provide all the essentials for commuters rushing home to get the party started.

So that’s basically burgers, sausages baps and beer. For most people a barbecue wouldn’t be complete without an ice cold beer.

And Interbrew UK has come to the rescue with its new ‘fridge-friendly’ pack of Stella Artois which it says will chill more quickly.

The new half-pint, slim-line ‘demi’ can of Stella Artois is packaged in a six-pack with a perforation in the middle. This enables consumers to divide the pack in half so they can put it either in the fridge door or on the fridge shelf.

The slim-line shape of the can and the smaller size also means that the beer can be chilled more quickly than in the standard 440ml can. The pack will be available to forecourts from early summer.

Bob Reason, national account controller at Interbrew UK, says: “With pressure on fridge space for the host and for shoppers taking beer to someone else’s home, offering ready-chilled beer is a big plus point for retailers. As chiller space is limited, forecourt operators should focus on big brands such as Stella Artois, which is the number one beer brand and by far the most popular choice at barbecues.

“Too many SKUs in the chiller affects overall availability and does not allow the product to chill long enough prior to purchase with the result that shoppers get beer that is lukewarm.”

He says forecourts can maximise the summer sales opportunity further by stocking larger pack formats of big brands; making sure shoppers are aware that ready-chilled beer is available by using signage in and around the forecourt; and ensuring they have adequate stocks during peak purchase periods, such as after 5pm in the evening and at the weekends.

According to research from TNS AlcoVision, beer accounts for 46% of drinks consumed at barbecues, compared with wine’s 35% share.

“Understanding the dynamics of the barbecue market is key if retailers are to make the most of the sales opportunity,” says Reason. “For example, two-thirds of barbecues are held at weekends and half of those are actually held on the spur of the moment because the weather is good.

“This means that the big rush to stock up on beer for barbecues will be on a Friday and Saturday – when beer purchasing is at a natural peak and when out-of-stocks are a major issue. It is therefore essential for retailers to have a strategy in place to ensure on-shelf availability to capture this uplift in sales.”

Unfortunately research indicates that almost seven out of 10 purchasers buy their barbecue beer from supermarkets. However Reason doesn’t see this as a problem for forecourts: “From an independent retailer’s perspective, the supply chain pressure on multiples can be seen as an opportunity for forecourts to do more to encourage customers to purchase beer from their stores.”

Karen Salters, marketing director of Beverage Brands, says that not everyone will want to drink lager so forecourts with off licences should stock major ready-to-drink (RTD) brands such as WKD.

“To maximise the sales opportunity, retailers need to focus on driving sales of the pillar brands by putting the display focus on them on the fixture and in the chiller. That is the recipe for trading success this summer and every summer.

“Retailers also need to raise the profile of major RTD brands by displaying them away from the drinks fixture alongside relevant summer categories, such as the barbecue section, to encourage shoppers to pick up all their summer requirements in one go.”

Whatever your poison, one thing’s for sure – forecourt operators should raise their glasses to summer and all the sales opportunities it brings.